“Another pint, please”, is a phrase you’ll be hearing less and less during lunch hours in London’s Square Mile, as Lloyds of London has officially banned alcohol consumption during working hours, driving a nail into the soggy coffin of the City’s drinking culture.
What seems like a common-sense policy came as quite a surprise to many of the institution’s 800 employees when a memo made its way into their inboxes late one Friday afternoon in February. A portion of the memo reads as follows:
“Drinking alcohol affects individuals differently. A zero limit is therefore simpler, more consistent and in line with the modern, global and high performance culture that we want to embrace.”
Most, if not all, financial professionals understand that drinking and trading isn’t a great idea, but how did it get to the point where Lloyds had to make it explicit?
The City is immersed in a drink-and-deal culture that stems from the fast-and-loose days of the 1960s. Clients and brokers would bond and make deals over a few pints at any hour of the day. Be it a beverage breakfast, boozy brunch, liquid lunch, drunk dinner, or don’t-let-me-call-my-ex dessert, many solid business relationships were forged over a bit of hootch.
According to former banker David Buik, an average lunch in the ‘60s included, “a large gin and tonic, half a bottle of claret and three Grand Marniers. But everybody did that.”
This “drink now, slur questions later” attitude began to shift starting in the 1980s following Margaret Thatcher’s Big Bang regulations . Mr. Buik went on to say that the massive reformation of the City “…eventually led to small, leisurely trading banks being gobbled up by large international corporations, and a much more competitive trading environment.” Suddenly those working in certain areas of the financial sector decided to button up and fly straight, for fear of becoming redundant.
In the modern City, the drinking culture has certainly become a lot more tame, even by 80s standards. But, as Richard Kindon of City Beacon confirms, the drinking culture is still alive and well, even if it’s not happening in the daylight.
“There’s definitely a drinking culture, it’s just much more prevalent in the evenings now than during the day,” he says. “These are affluent males, alpha males. Risk takers. And drinking is part of how they have been indoctrinated. Look at how many pubs and wine bars and restaurants there are in the City – it’s traditional in lots of ways.”
TSipping P oint
So what spurred Lloyds to take formal action to prevent its employees from having three-martini lunches? According to Stewart Todd, spokesman for Lloyd’s, it isn’t because there are hordes of drunk employees roaming the streets. In fact, he claims the majority of Lloyd’s employees won’t even be affected by the change since they don’t drink on the job anyway. Despite this, Lloyd’s said the move was partially due to an analysis of all grievances and disciplinary procedures within the company, where it was found that roughly half of all incidents were alcohol-related.
Perhaps Lloyd’s is trying to avoid the situation that occurred at Morgan Stanley in 2009 when City trader David Redmond, after what Nigel Farage would call a PFL, stumbled to his desk and traded for a few hours before calling it a day. The next morning he found that he had drunkenly made around $10m in trades which swiftly ended his career at Morgan Stanley and landed him a two-year ban from the City. Just goes to show a little liquid confidence can go a long way.
It’s also possible that Lloyd’s is doing everything they can to combat the fact that the financial services industry has the highest level of alcohol misuse of any employment sector, with close to 40% of middle management and general office workers binge drinking 2-3 days a week.
One for the Road
Although this new rule may not affect anything dramatically within the culture of the City, it is certainly an indicator of the rapidly changing times. It’s tough to make a determination on whether the rule is for the best or not, but needless to say there are financial professionals who fall on either side of the aisle. For every staunchly sober go-getter that feels alcohol is a distraction, there is a person like Matt Horne who feels sharing a drink helps build strong relationships.
“Insurance is all about relationships,” claims Matt, 11-year veteran of the industry. Matt says drinking moderately, “…is systemic, it’s just how the market works… If it’s not a problem going to a restaurant to have a glass of wine with a meal, I don’t think it’s any different to going to the pub having two pints and closing the deal.”
And at the end of the day, who can argue with a killer rhyme like that?